General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionTechnology & Practice Guide

Tools of the Trade

David A. Hirsch

David A. Hirsch practices law in Burlington, Iowa. He can be reached by e-mail at david@iowalaw.com, and by fax at 319/754-6302.

Incorporating technology into a law practice necessarily involves a conflict between harmony and invention. The process of changing information systems is painful. The price of a computer program is irrelevant. The true cost of any program is the pain of absorbing it into your office. Whether the program costs a thousand dollars a seat or is free matters only in the sense of short-term budgeting. Like a good employee, a good computer program is worth almost any price; a bad computer program is worse than worthless. To make matters worse, you don't always get what you pay for.

An old friend, now retired from Bell Telephone Laboratories, taught me the concept of the conflict between harmony and invention. It is so important a concept that I considered it for the name of this column. I settled on something less exciting, "Tools of the Trade," because I want to deglamorize technology and focus on the pragmatic.

I have no particular qualifications to write this column. Rather, my qualifications aren't any better than any other lawyer trying to absorb technology into the office. I work at a four-lawyer office in a southeastern Iowa town of about 30,000. While I personally mainly practice litigation, our office maintains a broad, general practice as most small-town law offices must. For us, technology is the great equalizer. It is what permits us to take on the big firms. It is what levels the playing field.

My columns will contain my personal experiences, pains, failures, and successes, and those of the people that I communicate with. My electronic mail address is david@iowalaw.com. I encourage you to contact me with questions or comments. The length of each column does not permit me to thoroughly explain every topic a particular column may touch on. You can affect the focus of the next column by communicating with me.

Most of my personal experience is with DOS, Windows, Windows95, and Unix. That means you won't find me writing frequently about Macintosh, even though I admire what Macintosh has enabled many lawyers to achieve. Even if you are committed to the Macintosh platform, this column should still have utility for you. Fundamentally, all lawyers are trying to solve the same problems. The basic concepts for all of us are nearly identical.

While many of you are on DOS platforms, because I feel the future is in graphical platforms, this issue's column discusses whether lawyers should migrate to Windows95. Please do not mistake me for a Microsoft aficionado. I have absolutely no love for Bill Gates. Despite that, I do not hesitate to recommend that lawyers migrate to Windows95 immediately if they have machinery that is strong enough and if they are otherwise committed to a DOS or Windows approach to computing.

Minimal machine configuration for Windows95 is probably 16 megabytes of RAM, a 600 megabyte hard disk (preferably 1 to 2 gigabytes), and a 486 66 MHz computer. I also recommend at least a 17-inch monitor.

Someone recently asked me: "Why do I want to waste my time learning the intricacies of yet another poorly thought out Microsoft operating system, overusing icons, 'do things our way or no way,' graphical interface? Why do I want to sign up for all the headaches and troubles that everyone else is experiencing while discovering all the new 'gotchas' in Windows95?"

Reasons to "upgrade" to Windows95:

  1. It is a standard. Bill says so.
  2. You can have long file names to go with your long documents.
  3. It multitasks. If you don't do a single thing well on a computer, you might as well try doing two or three things at a time.
  4. It doesn't hurt as much as Windows 3.x. Furthermore, anything you do on the computer will hurt. Why not hurt with the "state-of-the-art"? At least the pain will push you in the right direction.
  5. Word for Windows95 (Microsoft's 32-bit word processor written for Windows95) is worth the price of admission. It really is good.
  6. It is important to have an ambitious vision just in case you achieve it.
Reasons not to "upgrade" to Windows95:
  1. Bill creates screen tattoos (icons) for Microsoft Mail and Microsoft Network. You cannot get those icons off your screen unless you take those programs off your disk. Of course Bill is considerate. Even if you decide not to install Microsoft Network, he automatically gives you a screen tattoo to install Microsoft Network just in case you change your mind. [DH: Change OK?] This particular tattoo, the installation tattoo, unlike the Microsoft Network tatoo, is washable. You can get rid of it.
  2. If you ever double-click on that Microsoft Network screen tattoo, beware. It will overwrite certain communications files. If you haven't backed them up, and try to connect to another on-line service (one other than Microsoft Network), you will think your modem is broken.
  3. These two World Wide Web URLs (short for Uniform Resource Locators) will give you second thoughts. The official Anti-Microsoft homepage can be found at: http://www.hum.auc.dk/~trekan/antims/Anti-MS_homepage.html. In addition, check out Graeme's Micro$loth Windoze 95 Badge Page: http://florey.biosci.uq.edu.au/Windoze95Badge.html
Bill will be Bill. He makes his living on the conflict between harmony and invention. Peace would put him out of business.

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